“You won’t hear ‘Alive And Kicking’ being played in the elevator. Don’t worry! And there’s no Simple Minds memorabilia there,” quips Jim Kerr, the band’s lead singer, about Hotel Villa Angela, the delightful boutique establishment he opened in Sicily a decade ago. “When I first came across Taormina, I thought it was the most magical little town I had ever seen. I still do.” An Italophile since his early teens, the Simple Minds frontman simply acquired a piece of land with spectacular views of Mount Etna and the deep blue Mediterranean and decided to build a small hotel “so that others could come visit and, as a result, go home feeling as recharged and rejuvenated as I did every time I came to this part of the world. People mostly thought I had lost my mind when I told them of my plan”.
Kerr is one of many musicians who have by default, design, or desire become hoteliers, restaurateurs and owners of holiday resorts and destinations. They include Bono and The Edge of U2, who bought the run-down Clarence Hotel in Dublin in 1992 and turned it into a luxury establishment; Benny Andersson of Abba, who owns the Rival Hotel in Stockholm; Gloria and Emilio Estefan, the Cuban-American superstars whose raft of enterprises includes two hotels and several Cuban-themed restaurants in Florida. Olivia Newton-John is the main investor in the Gaia Retreat and Spa at Byron Bay in Australia; while Kate Pierson, of new-wave group The B-52s, is the co-proprietor of the quirkiest destinations a music fan could wish for: the Lazy Meadow rustic lodge in New York’s Catskill Mountains, and the Lazy Desert Airstream Motel, comprising six vintage Airstream caravans parked in the Mojave Desert of southern California. Chico Bouchikhi, the co-founder of the Gipsy Kings and now the leader of Chico and The Gypsies, welcomes guests and hosts parties at the picturesque Le Patio Camargue on the banks of the Rhône at Arles.
And that’s before you include Andy Taylor and Rod Smallwood, the management team behind Iron Maiden and the investors behind Sanctum Soho Hotel, the London rock’n’roll establishment par excellence; or the former Island Records supremo Chris Blackwell and his Island Outpost group of exclusive resorts, including GoldenEye, the former Jamaican home of James Bond creator Ian Fleming.
Sure, Rolling Stone Ronnie Wood bailed out of Woody’s On The Beach in Miami and The Harrington Club in South Kensington, but his former band-mates Bill Wyman and Kenney Jones moved into hospitality a long time ago and have stayed for the long haul. Wyman’s Sticky Fingers restaurant, just off Kensington High Street, remains a destination for Stones fans visiting London, while Jones, the former drummer with The Faces, Small Faces and The Who, owns Hurtwood Park Polo Club in Ewhurst, Surrey, a popular venue for weddings, tournaments and corporate events.
Indeed, once you start looking at pubs, eateries and bars, it seems every other musician, singer or rapper has had fingers in one or several pies, even if some, like Aerosmith, Damon Albarn or Puff Daddy, have moved on. REM’s Michael Stipe still owns The Grit, a vegetarian restaurant in Athens, Georgia. Hamish Stuart, of the Average White Band, runs the highly rated East Coast Dining Room in Whitstable, Kent; and Wet Wet Wet’s drummer Tommy Cunningham liked his local pub, The Village Tavern in Duntocher, Dunbartonshire, so much, he bought it.
The same impulse did for Dire Straits bassist John Illsley, the stalwart proprietor of the East End Arms in Lymington, Hampshire, which has been voted one of Britain’s 50 best pubs. “I was building a house down there and used to meet the architect and the builder in this local I rather liked – very simple and traditional,” Illsley recalls. “I found out the pub was for sale. In a rash moment I thought ‘ooh well, I’d better buy it to stop somebody turning it into something which I don’t like’. It was a bit of a selfish act. That was 25 years ago, just before the last Dire Straits tour. People see me as a hotelier, but I did it by accident.”
The musician-turned-artist was something of a pioneer, and his low-key approach has proved popular. “I could have thrown a lot of money at it and gone crazy, but I felt instinctively that I wanted to keep the public bar exactly as it was because that’s what the locals wanted,” says Illsley. “I don’t pull the pints, but I talk to the chef and the manager about the food, changes to the wine list. Obviously, the odd Dire Straits fan turns up, which is nice. I finally did an acoustic gig in the restaurant a year ago. I might do another just for the hell of it. It’s a nice place to have, even if it doesn’t make me any money. I’m a very lucky man.”
Kate Pierson, of The B-52s, thinks that rock musicians spend so much time travelling it is inevitable they fantasise about “owning a little hotel”.
“It’s another creative outlook,” she said. She saw a “for sale” sign for what became known as Lazy Meadow and “thought it would be fun to do up, a good investment, even if it was really run down”.
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The nightmarish couple of years that followed, dealing with “infrastructure and sulphur water treatment”, didn’t discourage her or her partner, Monica Coleman. On the upside, Pierson found a home for “all the mid-century junk” she had bought with her band-mates on the road. “I could just completely furnish the rooms and the suites. I appreciate good design. I love uniqueness. Our aesthetic is very Sixties, when Diana Vreeland was the editor of Vogue – star-shaped Sputnik lamps like we had on the cover of our second album,” she says.
The iconic Airstreams came next. “Another fantasy of mine,” admits Pierson, who soon found herself with “a little fleet in the middle of this series of floods that’s supposed to come only once every 100 years”. Drastic action was needed, so she shipped the Airstreams to “the driest place in America”: Landers, California.
“We developed Lazy Desert in this beautiful, pristine environment,” says Pierson. “It’s like being on the Moon, next to this building called the Integratron, built by this mad scientist George Van Tassel. People have such a great time there. Sleeping in an Airstream for the night is a fantasy fulfilment. One is called Kate’s Airstream and is just papered with all of our posters and memorabilia. That is definitely The One.”
Bouchikhi is also glad that he took the plunge and invested in his local area, especially since, as in Pierson’s case, the three-hectare property mirrors his lifestyle and matches the music he makes with Chico and The Gypsies – a Latin pop and rock group. “Le Patio de Camargue was an industrial wasteland we have transformed into a festive venue, the temple of gypsy music,” he says of his hacienda-like compound where you can enjoy the legendary gitan hospitality, stay in a caravan and even have your fortune told. “People travel from all over the world, from Japan, Canada, South Africa, Belgium, to take part in the events we organise once a month. It’s incredible.”
Rock ’n’ rollers have gone from singing about living it up in hotels and motels and trashing their rooms to owning boutique establishments. Surely, that is a positive development.
Kerr agrees. “These bars, restaurants and hotels have become part of the entertainment industry. To go to these places and relax is also to escape the daily humdrum, as it is when we go to concerts, the cinema or the theatre. That is the connection that musicians can help to make.
“As with performing a concert, the high is when you know that people have thoroughly enjoyed the experience,” stresses the singer. “With Hotel Villa Angela, it is a mixture of the stupendous views, the laid-back ambience, and the friendliness of the staff that seem to do the trick. So many of our guests are repeat customers because of this personalised feeling.”
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